It’s Official! News Media Can Legally Lie

Most of us know they do it, but did you know it’s openly and perfectly legal? Via Project Censored:

In February 2003, a Florida Court of Appeals unanimously agreed with an assertion by FOX News that there is no rule against distorting or falsifying the news in the United States.

Back in December of 1996, Jane Akre and her husband, Steve Wilson, were hired by FOX as a part of the Fox “Investigators” team at WTVT in Tampa Bay, Florida. In 1997 the team began work on a story about bovine growth hormone (BGH), a controversial substance manufactured by Monsanto Corporation. The couple produced a four-part series revealing that there were many health risks related to BGH and that Florida supermarket chains did little to avoid selling milk from cows treated with the hormone, despite assuring customers otherwise.

According to Akre and Wilson, the station was initially very excited about the series. But within a week, Fox executives and their attorneys wanted the reporters to use statements from Monsanto representatives that the reporters knew were false and to make other revisions to the story that were in direct conflict with the facts. Fox editors then tried to force Akre and Wilson to continue to produce the distorted story. When they refused and threatened to report Fox’s actions to the FCC, they were both fired.(Project Censored #12 1997)

Akre and Wilson sued the Fox station and on August 18, 2000, a Florida jury unanimously decided that Akre was wrongfully fired by Fox Television when she refused to broadcast (in the jury’s words) “a false, distorted or slanted story” about the widespread use of BGH in dairy cows. They further maintained that she deserved protection under Florida’s whistle blower law. Akre was awarded a $425,000 settlement. Inexplicably, however, the court decided that Steve Wilson, her partner in the case, was ruled not wronged by the same actions taken by FOX.

FOX appealed the case, and on February 14, 2003 the Florida Second District Court of Appeals unanimously overturned the settlement awarded to Akre. The Court held that Akre’s threat to report the station’s actions to the FCC did not deserve protection under Florida’s whistle blower statute, because Florida’s whistle blower law states that an employer must violate an adopted “law, rule, or regulation.” In a stunningly narrow interpretation of FCC rules, the Florida Appeals court claimed that the FCC policy against falsification of the news does not rise to the level of a “law, rule, or regulation,” it was simply a “policy.” Therefore, it is up to the station whether or not it wants to report honestly.

During their appeal, FOX asserted that there are no written rules against distorting news in the media. They argued that, under the First Amendment, broadcasters have the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on public airwaves. Fox attorneys did not dispute Akre’s claim that they pressured her to broadcast a false story, they simply maintained that it was their right to do so. After the appeal verdict WTVT general manager Bob Linger commented, “It’s vindication for WTVT, and we’re very pleased… It’s the case we’ve been making for two years. She never had a legal claim.”

Read more here.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.wright.1656 Richard Wright

    she was screwed by Fox of course fox lies about every story they even lied during 9/11

  • I_abide

    Why did we need a court to make this official. The money controlling the system will always win at their own game. The best bet is to either stop playing the game or burn the house down that the game is being played in with all players present.

  • Haystack

    Most news outlets wouldn’t think of damaging their journalistic reputations by arguing, before a judge, that they have the right to knowingly publish false information, but, true to form, Fox is “unafraid,”

  • Juan

    This is news how?

  • Spike McLarty

    Not true, do some research. “Right to lie” was neither an issue in the court case(s), nor was it affirmed by any judge or jury. Akre & Wilson’s lost in review on a technicality: Florida’s whistleblower law does not cover the relevant FCC policy, so they were not covered by (or protected by) as whistleblowers.
    Seriously, you’re worried about commercial news organizations lying? Have you seen the Internet?

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